Mining labor and skills gap will widen significantly, SME warns

May 22, 2014  |  News & Trends

mining labor shortage and its training implicationsSME recently updated its briefing, Workforce Trends in the U.S. Mining Industry. It paints a picture of an industry that will face some herculean workforce challenges in the next 5 to 15 years:

5 years from now: According to projections from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the mining industry will grow by 50,000 workers in the next 5 years. During the same period of time, 78,000 workers will need to be replaced due to retirement. Adding these two numbers together means that the mining industry will need to source and train approximately 128,000 workers by 2019 - only 5 years from now!

15 years from now: By 2029, more than half the current workforce will be retired. EIA doesn't forecast hires due to industry growth that far into the future, but it's easy to see from the chart at right that the number of workers who need to be replaced due to retirement will almost triple, to 221,000. Assuming a similar rate of hires to support new growth, that's nearly 300,000 workers!

Clearly, industry growth will be constrained unless the mining industry acts now to attract more young people to it. As the SME report implies, mining is an industry that is fairly stable in a market where most others can't promise any kind of job security:

"Mining will be one of a handful of sectors that will add jobs at a fairly constant rate (11,000 to 13,000 per year) over the next 20 years, driven by the retirement of the current workforce and projected increase in demand for resource production. These will tend to be well-paying, relatively long-term jobs."

However, the report questions if the U.S. has the skilled labor or educational base to support the current demand for mine workers, much less the sharp increases projected in the near future.

Training implications

Now is the time to put in place a world-class training program to anticipate these challenges and mitigate them. We've seen it with some of our mine customers - it's getting significantly harder to find and retain equipment operators. A growing percentage of new hires have no previous heavy equipment operating experience. This changes how you must train, since you cannot assume any prior knowledge.

As mines seek foreign workers to make up for the shortage of domestic hires, training will increasingly need to be multi-lingual. That means a modular approach to designing training will become the norm, so audio tracks in different languages can be easily integrated with the visual content of training programs.

Excellent training will become a key tool in retaining the best mine workers. Labor shortages usually mean that the best workers can easily job jump to make more money. Numerous surveys show that providing high-quality training to employees makes them feel more valued and more capable - and therefore more likely to stay.

As older workers retire, they're taking much of their knowledge with them. Are you doing anything to transfer their years of experience to your younger workers?

Younger, inexperienced workers are likely to have more health and safety issues than their older, more experienced counterparts.

In order to fill these jobs, mines will need to look farther afield, hiring foreign workers and hire a growing percentage of people who have no previous mining experience. Both of these developments will cause new safety challenges.

What to do now

Clearly, training will become an even bigger factor in preparing your workforce to work productively and safely. If you believe, as we do, that you must begin preparing now for these future labor issues, please contact us. We'd love to discuss your needs with you.

Interested in our training products? See: Silver Series Training ProgramĀ or Gold Series Training CurriculaĀ

Tags: labor, labor shortage, mine trends, mining, training, trends, workforce

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